The Big Ten released its 2020 football schedule Saturday, and Penn State won’t have to wait very long in its abbreviated season to see whether it can play with the best team in the Big Ten.
After opening its conference slate Oct. 24 at Indiana, the Nittany Lions make their season debut at Beaver Stadium on Halloween, taking on Ohio State, the choice of many observers to win the Big Ten championship.
The schedule of eight conference games – four home and four away – was released three days after chancellors and presidents announced they had unanimously decided to restore the 2020 season, satisfied with new COVID-19 protocols, including daily testing of players.
A ninth game is to be scheduled during the week of the Dec. 19 Big Ten championship game. Should the Nittany Lions not win the East Division, they would take on the West Division team that finished in the same position in the standings as they did.
The schedule does not include a bye week, which means a canceled game would not be rescheduled. Penn State vice president of athletics Sandy Barbour said that should a team not be able to field enough players for a game, it will be ruled a no-contest.
The Nittany Lions, who were ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll after an 11-2 season in 2019, will host Maryland on Nov. 7. The remainder of the schedule has the Lions playing at Nebraska on Nov. 14, home versus Iowa on Nov. 21, back-to-back road games Nov. 28 at Michigan and Dec. 5 at Rutgers, and Michigan State at Beaver Stadium on Dec. 12.
“I think that’s why college football is so exciting, so great,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said in an interview on Fox. "If you want to make the playoffs and you want to guarantee that you’ll be in the playoffs, you pretty much need to be undefeated.
“We won the Big Ten championship [in 2016], didn’t make the playoffs, so we understand. We learned that lesson very well. You better take it one game at a time. You better not take anybody for granted.”
The Lions' game against Ohio State, which came in at No. 2 in the AP preseason rankings, is the marquee matchup of the season. The winner is expected to have the advantage in the race for the East Division title and a berth in the championship game. They last defeated the Buckeyes, 24-21, in 2016, their only win in their last seven games against their rival to the west.
However, they can’t afford to look ahead to Week 2. Indiana gave the Nittany Lions a battle last year at Beaver Stadium, outgaining them 462-371, before Penn State prevailed, 34-27.
Penn State will make its first trip to Nebraska since 2012. Its other scheduled crossover game is against Iowa, the fifth straight year the two teams will meet. The Nittany Lions have won the previous four games.
“It’s going to be challenging,” Franklin said. “So we just can’t look at anything this year like we have in the past. This is the new normal for this season. We’ve just got to embrace it.”